EFF Legal Victories
Since its founding in 1990, EFF has consistently taken critical cases, challenged tough opponents, and achieved landmark victories. EFF has prevailed in lawsuits against the federal government, the FCC, the world's largest entertainment companies, and major electronics companies, among others. EFF has also beaten bills in Congress and pressured companies to respect your rights.
Learn more about some of EFF's key victories below. To support our continued success, consider becoming a member and donating to EFF.
EFF held Sony BMG accountable for infecting its customers' computers with software that created grave security vulnerabilities and let the company spy on listening behavior.
Sony BMG included the dangerous software on millions of music CDs as part of a misguided attempt to restrict consumer usage. After pushing Sony BMG to take the CDs off the market, EFF filed and subsequently settled a class-action lawsuit that forced Sony to repair the damage already done. EFF also successfully pressured Sunncomm, the creators of one of the harmful technologies, to fix the security flaws.
EFF defended the right of innovators to build new technologies without begging Hollywood's permission first.
Hollywood has hoped to control innovation by overturning the "Betamax doctrine" - the bedrock principle that the developer of a technology with substantial legal uses cannot be held liable for users' copyright violations. In the Grokster case, 28 of the world's largest entertainment companies sued the distributors of peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing software. EFF defended one of the software companies all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to overturn the Betamax doctrine or to force technology companies to redesign multipurpose technologies. Meanwhile, EFF helped block the INDUCE Act, a bill that would have severely undermined the Betamax doctrine.
EFF defended online journalists and their rights to protect the confidentiality of sources as offline reporters do.
Apple Computer sued several unnamed individuals, called "Does," who allegedly leaked information about an upcoming product to online news sites PowerPage and AppleInsider. As part of its investigation, Apple subpoenaed Nfox -- PowerPage's email service provider -- for communications and unpublished materials obtained by PowerPage publisher Jason O'Grady. EFF successfully defended the journalists -- a California state appeals court held that they were protected by California's reporter's shield law and the constitutional privilege against disclosure of confidential sources. The court also held that Apple's subpoena to Nfox was unenforceable because it violated the federal Stored Communications Act.
EFF fought the government's attempts to track the location of a mobile phone user without sufficient evidence.
The government had argued that it did not need to show probable cause that a crime was being committed. Consistent with EFF's brief, a federal magistrate judge in New York rejected the government's arguments, calling them "unsupported," "misleading," "contrived," and a "Hail Mary." Since then, several other judges have made similar rulings.
EFF established that the FCC and Hollywood don't control your TiVo - you do.
The FCC's "broadcast flag" mandate would have given copyright holders and the government a veto over development and use of digital television tuners. Only technologies crippled by copy protection would have been legal. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously concluded, as EFF and a coalition of public interest groups had argued, that the FCC lacked authority to regulate what happens inside your TV or computer once it has received a broadcast signal.
EFF protected online speakers by bringing the first successful suit against abusive copyright claims under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
When internal memos exposing flaws in Diebold Election Systems' electronic voting machines leaked onto the Internet, Diebold used bogus copyright threats to silence its critics. EFF fought back on behalf of an ISP, winning an award of damages, costs, and attorneys' fees. Equally important, the case set a precedent that will allow other Internet users and their ISPs to fight back against improper copyright threats.
EFF established that computer code is speech and shielded the developers of privacy-protecting software from government censorship.
In 1995, researcher Dan Bernstein planned to distribute an encryption program he had written that could help prevent strangers from snooping on online communications, discovering passwords, and stealing credit card numbers. But draconian federal laws restricted the publication of his program, treating privacy protection as a potential threat to national security. EFF successfully sued the government on behalf of Bernstein, and a federal court affirmed, for the first time, that software code deserves First Amendment protection.
EFF extended free speech protections online, successfully challenging the constitutionality of Internet censorship laws.
In 1996, EFF and a coalition of public interest groups sued to block the Communications Decency Act, which criminalized publishing certain content online that the government clearly could not prohibit offline. Unanimously, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law and established that online speech deserves the full protection of the First Amendment. Congress still didn't learn its lesson, subsequently passing the slightly narrower but still gravely dangerous Children Online Protection Act. Again, EFF fought back, and the Supreme Court has twice upheld injunctions against the law.
EFF set one of the first precedents protecting computer communications from unwarranted government invasion.
In 1990, the Secret Service seized the computers of a small company out of Austin, Texas, called Steve Jackson Games. The computers included the company's electronic bulletin board system, a precursor the Internet for exchanging private email. This case was the first to establish that it is illegal for law enforcement to access and read private electronic mail without a warrant.
Even more EFF legal victories »